As you probably know, I didn’t complete the project I intended to, The Willows, and I ended up making a short self portrait film exploring my creative process – in a somewhat metaphysical, and ironic, way. Obviously, this film was rushed, disorganised, and altogether unfocused. Despite this, I think created some beautiful imagery, and I learned a lot about myself and what I’d like to be doing with my creative practice.
Part One – Methodology:
I came to making this film on the seventh of June, that’s twelve days before my deadline. It was three weeks since I’d finished what would be the first and only track I completed from The Willows, of which there was going to be at least four – ‘The Willows – Prelude’, ‘The Psychology of Places’, and ‘Strange Meeting No. 1 & No. 2’. I felt burned up, I had been polishing the same two minutes of sonic material for weeks, then I’d been in bed, ill, for even longer. At this point I knew I’d failed, I’d failed in practising my own ideal methodology; rather than going outside into nature and making things, I was going out into the world and collecting little bits of it to make something out of when I got back – the creative process was at a computer, not outside. Furthermore, I knew I wasn’t going to complete The Willows project, effectively nullifying the second section of my project proposal. Knowing I wasn’t going to be able to complete the intended piece, and knowing I wasn’t working in the way I wanted to, meant I knew I was going to have to change something, if I was to have anything at all to show; even if I didn’t finish the project, I could be happy knowing I had worked towards it in the way I’d wanted to. So that’s what the film was, and I guess that’s how the two pieces are tied together.
The first thing I did after deciding to start a fresh project, in order to work in the way I wanted to, was to throw my tired body into the freezing twilight of the English Channel. At the time, it seemed to symbolise exactly what I wanted to be doing – submerging myself in the outside world – while simultaneously proving the futility of my previous attempts to fight and harness such aberrant natural forces for my own aesthetic goals. Though I now realise it was just creative desperation disguised as poetry. But it was hopeful, and indulgent, and inspirational; there is always inspiration in one’s own delusions, especially those which elevate convolution to the hight of intricacy- a lesson I’ll keep with me. After this one evening of experimentation in the outside world – with no structure in mind – I decided this was the easiest way to practice my methodology of creating in the real world. Rather than fighting to make the world do as I needed it I was to see what it offered me. Working like this felt healthy, really wonderfully healthy.
Part Two – Artistic Communication:
I had the intention of focusing on a less existential fear, and allowing the source material of The Willows to communicate its own more visceral, distinctly non-human fear. As you can see if you’ve watched my film, this did not come out in the final piece. Moreover, this didn’t come through in the section of The Willows I actually completed, as this section was a sort of thematic preparation for the rest of the piece. As for the communication of ideas through the film, I think my audience – of those who listened and watched with their full attention – saw what I was trying to do with the film; people laughed, people understood the irony, and several people said they could relate to the process I was describing.
Part Three – Learning:
I feel I learned a lot while still working on the sonic piece; I went from having no idea how to compose electroacoustic music, to being confident in composing entirely within the realm of electroacoustics, and in mixing the techniques I learned with my more traditional musical practice. Given the same time again to complete a project as ambitious as The Willows was, I would feel confident in completing the project to a reasonable standard – one of the key issues I had was burning myself out learning the techniques, and being lost for motivation by the time it came to creating anything for the final piece. The research process during for The Willows was incredible enlightening, and was the only time I’ve managed to find research thoroughly interesting while being practically useful in my work.
Part Four – Exhibition:
For both the pieces I completed correct exhibition is incredibly important to me. At the opening even of my end of year show, I found my film work was drowned out by ambient sounds when played on the big screen in the centre of our exhibition space, which detracted drastically from the comic and emotional impact of the film. As for the sound work, it is important that it is listened to through decent headphones, and you should probably listen to it alone and in the dark.
Ultimately, I am happy with how all the work I completed turned out, and I’m particularly happy I was able to complete the film in the way I did. It was a struggle, and I will never use such a personally important project to experiment with a new medium, but I am pleased I managed to pull it all together.
Benjamin Isaac Brockbank-Naylor signing off for the last time, college is over.
For one scene in my latest film I decided to interview myself, on the subject of narcissism – just because I thought there was some ironic humour in doing so. And to add a little something to that interview, besides the voice clearly being the same voice asking and answering the questions, I decide to duplicate myself placing the audio recorder down for the interview. My idea was to kill two – or three – birds with one stone, by adding some depth to the joke by showing myself twice, to further sell the documentary feeling by having the recorder clearly placed in shot, and then to sell the effect by having the interviewee move the recorder once the interviewer placed it in the shot. I am particularly happy with how this effect turned out due to its subtlety, and how easy it was the achieve.
First, I’ll take you through the practice elements of creating the effect, then I’ll go through the simple compositing techniques I used, and finally I’ll explain how I did the VHS tape – which was pretty simple to do practically, but could also be done using VFX, if you don’t have access to a working tape recorder.
This is not necessarily the best way to create this effect, but it is an easy way to do on your own, and with little equipment – just a camera, and tripod, an audio recorder, and a video editor that supports masking, like Premiere Pro from Adobe.
Character Duplication – Practical Effects:
- Make sure the camera is on a tripod, as any movement will make compositing incredibly difficult.
- Record the version of the scene where the character places the recorder down, take as many takes as you like, but always leave the recorder exactly where it was placed while reviewing the take, as it’ll need to be in that position for the next version of the scene. You cannot use an earlier take, as the recorder will not be in exactly the right place. Making a mark on your location might allow you to duplicate the position of the record throughout the takes, but I found it easier to just do a final take and go with it.
- You’ll then want to, without moving the camera at all, record the next take of the scene. Have your actor acknowledge the previous version of themselves and then take the recorder and do as they wish with it. If you don’t want to character to move the recorder, this scene will be easier, as you won’t need to retake the first scene is you mess this up.
- Next, you’ll need to record the vocals for the questions. You could record the interview question later and then mix them to sound like they’re coming from behind the camera, but it’s easier to just move to where you’d imagine the interviewer would be standing, and – leaving the recorder where is was for the answers – record the question being asked. You might need to amplify the vocals from this section once in your editor, as the recorder wont usually pick up as well from the rear, but this will save a lot of audio editing, as the vocals will be positioned exactly where you want them, and will sound incredibly realistic straight out of the recorder.
Character Duplication – Visual Effects/Compositing:
- Bring all the footage into your compositor of choice, any program that support masking will do, so if you don’t have After Effects don’t worry, Premiere Pro will do, or even Hitfilm.
- Find the the best take of both version of the scene, remember each take will have a matching first and second section, in which the audio recorder will be in exactly the same position – though if you mark and match the record’s location exactly throughout takes, you’ll be able to mix and match versions to get the best of both takes.
- Place both clips on top of one in a new composition/sequence.
- Turn the opacity of the top layer down so you can see the layer underneath, then align the clips so the timing is exactly how you want it – obviously making sure the recorder has been placed by the interviewer before the interviewee tries to move it.
- Once the clips are aligned, go to your ‘effects controls’ panel and navigate to opacity, then click the pen tool icon, draw around the area of the scene where the action takes place, and feather the mask slightly to blend any slight changes in lighting.
- You’ll now need to navigate the the part of the clip when the recorder is placed down, and keyframe the position of the mask to follow the hand of the interviewer. this is so as the recorder is placed the interviewer’s version is showing, and as they take their hand away we leave the interviewee’s clip where the recorder is, allowing the interviewee to then be seen to move it.
This effect – minus the recorder – has been covered in many videos on YouTube, so if you are unsure about how to do any of the things mentioned here just look for character duplication on YouTube, is much easier to show the process rather than tell it, so this is mainly for those who roughly understand how the effect works, but are having trouble making it look real.
Creating the VHS tape was quite simple. All you need to do is burn a DVD version of the film, play the DVD through a TV that has a tape recorder attached, hit record and let it play – hey presto you have a VHS with the effect on. If you then want to record this back into the computer to get this old documentary look you’re going to want to mask around the screen – once you have your footage of the TV, of course – so you’re able to colour grade the TV separate from the rest of the scene, this way you can really make the screen pop out from the background.
If you can’t your hands of a VHS recorder, just record the screen with nothing on from a tripod to make compositing easier, then mask out that part of the video, add your effect underneath, add Red Giant’s VHS effect (from Red Giant Universe), duplicate the layer with the effect, scale it up a little, add a lot of blur to the layer – so you only have a vague sense of the colours of the scene – mask that so it only applies to the area immediately around the TV screen then tune the opacity to however looks right to you, to create the illusion of light spilling from the TV – you can also change the blending mode to ‘soft light’ in the opacity controls, which will help to sell the effect. If you can get the effect onto the TV, but don’t have a tape to record it onto, you could just record that on a tripod, then record another version in which a tape is pushed in, then cut from one to the other once the tape goes in and would be playing. You could also mask the TV screen and add Red Giant’s VHS tape effect, to make it look a little dirtier.
To learn more about character duplication check out this video from Film Riot.
Hopefully this was helpful, I’ll be back soon.
In my last blog post I confessed all the troubles I’d been having with my Final Major Project, and I left saying I was going to try making a film about the process. I’m not sure the film I made is a film about ‘this process of learning and working in a new medium’, but it’s definitely about me – and my process. I’ve been making a self portrait film, I didn’t know it at first, but I am.
People refer to ‘the language of film’ all the time, and I’ve used the analogy a lot in my writing – going so far as to parallel alliteration to match cutting – but I’d never really tried speaking this language. With this film I decided to do that, and I let each stage of the process speak as it wished; I wrote things, I filmed things, I recorded things, I editing things, then I graded things, and with each stage I just said something about myself in the language of film. It was only a self portrait because I needed something to say, but really it was just trying to speak – kind of like the Spanish lessons I did as a kid, we started by learning how to introduce ourselves.
A good summery of how I felt about the film was probably it’s title, I Have Nothing to Show After Two Years of This. Which, while it’s not altogether true, does encapsulate a lot of the fears I had starting this project. Going into this project, I only really had one aim: I wanted to have something to show people when they asked what I was doing with my life. And, though I failed to achieve that with The Willows, and I don’t have something to show them to prove I’m doing something meaningful, I do have an answer to their question: I have nothing to show, but I can use the language I’ve been learning to tell them that, and show them. Perhaps it’s just childish arrogance, or maybe it’s some new flavour denial, but I really think this film was the film I needed to make right now, more than I needed to make The Willows, or any other piece of work. I feel like I did something right.
The film ended up blurring the line between what was real – like my conversation with my mother and sister – and what was hyperbolised, or even metaphorical, which proved to be incredibly freeing, especially after following such a strict structure in a lot of my other work – like my interpretation of The Willows. Also unlike many of my other projects, there are a lot of scenes that didn’t make it into the film, which again was freeing – this time in the editing process – as I could craft the ‘story’ without feeling like I was throwing away weeks of work, and damaging my carefully considered narrative. Similarly, with no script to adhere to, I was able to feel something in the edit, and just go out a make it – if the film need some respite from intensity, I could go film some flowers, or something like that. This whole sense of freedom allowed me to experiment with all sorts of new techniques, and to quickly replicate techniques I’d used in previous projects, just to say something I had no words for.
All this lead me to putting a lot of different things into this film, and I’m going to try to break down how I did some of them before I move on from this film, so I’ll probably be blogging about making two versions of myself appear on a VHS tape quite soon.
Thanks for reading all this.
PS. The film isn’t pretentious, it might be arrogant, or clique (without me realising), or narrow-minded, and it is self-conscious and self-mocking and self-indulgent, but if it is all those things it’s because – at this point in time – I’m all those things too, so I needn’t adopt a pretence to be them.
To decide to learn an entirely new medium in which to express a narrative you’re yet to completely understand is quite a task – and putting a time limit on that doesn’t make it much easier. There is only one thing I find harder than pushing through once I begin to realise I might not make it through this learning process within my intended time frame, and that’s giving up on the original idea. Sometimes you’re faced with a choice; you can either give up on your original idea, and create something – perhaps wonderful – from the scraps you’ve mustered thus far, or you can cling to the idea and let that drag you down. I hate making this choice. I hate making this choice because it’s never that simple.
Well, this is what I did when I was faced with that choice. Firstly, I decided to avoid working on the project, by finding other ‘productive’ things to do (check out my electric guitar build blog when that’s finished). Secondly, I spent days polishing what I already had, obsessively over-working myself to fix that which was unfixable or unbroken. Thirdly, I got ill, really horribly ill, I managed to time some kind of viral infection with a series of panic attacks and stress induced stomach pains. This took a good two weeks to get over. By this point I was already nostalgically attached to my perfect unfinished experiments, and I couldn’t possibly bring myself to work on them in any way, and definitely couldn’t upcycle them into anything new. Fourthly: I realised my deadline was too close to manage to create anything new from what I had already made, then I gave up on trying to give up.
Now here I am, two weeks from my deadline, with no idea of what I should do, or where I should take my project. And I have no real reason to care about how this project turns out, quite frankly I don’t have any reason to do well now, say for my own satisfaction, and perhaps my education. Going into this project I had one key goal, I wanted to create something that would be a complete, standalone piece of work, which people could observe and say, “Ben’s done something over the last two years, and this shows that.” I don’t think I’m going to manage that. Nevertheless, I have learned a lot in the last couple of months, and I know if I was to start over with a fresh idea and use this medium to express that idea I’d be much more capable of achieving that in the given time – which is an amazing thing to be able to say at this point.
One of the things I have learned is to be conscious when choosing a medium in which to work on a story you hold close to your heart, a story you’ve had floating around in your head for months and have been trying to work out how to bring to life – be that an original story or an adaptation. While not having the skills needed to use a medium to express a story shouldn’t put you off using that medium, it might be a good idea to try creating a few projects within this medium before giving the narrative to this form – as you’re unlikely to get it back, especially if you have a deadline looming for the piece. In my current project, I have spent a large amount of time learning my new medium, and despite the excitement of discovering new techniques often igniting my inspiration, I have spent a lot of time exhausting the drive I had for the project while learning. This might not always happen, in fact I’m sure doesn’t, but it’s been a losing battle for me. By the time I felt confident in expressing my idea in my chosen medium, my drive for the idea was diminishing; it’s like working with blunt tools, then spending all your energy sharpening them before you can get to doing the project, by which time you’re tired and sweaty and fed up, and working while feeling like that can kill a project – as least, your inspiration for the project.
Moving on? So far this project has been a fascinating process from me, and a process I’d like the share. I have some pieces of work I’m incredibly happy with, and I’ve learned a lot – as I keep saying. But I want to get up and start something new. I want to step back from my current project and create something exciting and fresh. But how do I do that while making progress on my Final Major Project (FMP)? I’ve decided to spend these last two weeks creating a reflective short film about this process of learning and working in a new medium. I may be using bits and pieces from the piece I’ve been working on, but I will not be working on the project directly. Hopefully this will be the fresh start I’ve been looking for. And I’ll keep this blog up to date with the work I’m doing on the new project.
Thanks for reading it.